Friday, December 13, 2019

The Story of New York's Staircase

The Story of New York's Staircase
Prestel, November 2019



Paperback | 10 x 10 inches | 144 pages | 100 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-3791384733 | $25.00

Publisher's Description:
A public space like no other, the staircase was designed by the award-winning Heatherwick Studio to give New Yorkers and visitors a unique vertical experience. In this book, readers can witness every part of its development, from initial designs to the finished structure. They'll learn why and how the staircase came to be and the significance of its placement in the Nelson Byrd Woltz-designed Public Square and Gardens at Hudson Yards. An essay by architecture critic Paul Goldberger explores the importance of public spaces, while additional texts explain the evolution of the neighbourhood and discuss the staircase’s dramatic design. A wealth of photography follows the structure's incredible path to completion and the final result, with a total of 2,500 steps, 154 interconnected staircases, 80 viewing landings, and one mile of pathways reaching 150 feet into the air. Documenting one of the most complex pieces of architectural steelwork ever built at this scale, this book offers a fascinating, detailed, and unforgettable look at a dazzling new structure.
dDAB Commentary:
Thomas Heatherwick's Vessel opened in March 2019 with a lot of fanfare but also a good deal of criticism. Appreciation of the $150 million-plus climbable sculpture was bound up with the many aspects of the huge Hudson Yards development whose first phase it anchors. For one, although a folly that rightfully garners attention, the 150-foot-tall Vessel is surrounded by five mediocre skyscrapers that make the public space somewhat lacking. (These towers tend to make ascending it a battle against funneled breezes at times too.) Most of the criticism though was levied at access to its many steps, since it required reserving a timed ticket online beforehand (tickets were free at first but later they had fee options added to them), and at the legal language in those tickets that would grant Hudson Yards' developers the rights to any photos taken of the Vessel. The developers "tweaked" their photo policy following uproar over the latter, but Vessel and the "public square and gardens" it sits within are technically private, so access to the sculpture can be restricted at the mercy of the owners. (The only truly public component of Hudson Yards is The Shed, what's also the most liked piece of the development.)

One thing missing from this book devoted to Vessel is just that: the name "Vessel." The sculpture will eventually carry a different name, perhaps arising from a naming contest banded about earlier this year, but the book simply calls the creation "New York's Staircase." Who knows, maybe it will eventually be known just as that. Whatever the case, the book is for fans of Heatherwick's sculpture rather than its detractors. It's loaded with photographs taken since its March opening, a few drawings and models, some construction photos, some cute illustrations with walking figures, and a serrated corner that extends the sculpture's steps all the way to the book's pages. People with a genuine curiosity about Vessel will want to read the three essays, in which Jeff Chu documents the evolution of the design and some details of its overseas construction and transatlantic voyage, Sarah Medford puts the artwork and development into the larger historical and geographic context of Manhattan's West Side, and Paul Goldberger speculates on the meaning of Vessel as a 21st century public space. Not surprisingly, like "Vessel," these essays don't mention the photo rights (the book has plenty of photos that look like they might have been obtained via that photo policy though), just how "public" the heart of Hudson Yards is, or other controversial aspects of the sculpture and development. New York's Staircase is clearly a celebration of "New York's Staircase," and those who love the sculpture will find plenty to love in the book.
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